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 Post subject: Barcud-Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.July 2010
Unread postPosted: Fri Jul 02, 2010 8:20 pm 
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Skorokoro Safari’s Go Bushveld Birding.

Gobble, gobble, chirped my mobile phone at the end of last week (I have a Turkey’s call as one of my sound settings). I was on site inspecting some concrete being poured in a small town in deepest, darkest Wales. “I wonder who is texting me this early in the day?” I mused, before checking the message.

“Can you get a flight out to SA very quickly? We have managed to book several camps in Kruger”……the message read. Concrete forgotten, I got on the phone to my Travel Agent (No high-tech internet bookings for this old dinosaur!) and, ten minutes later, I had my reservations and was all set to go. “Hmmmm, I thought. Think I’d better let my employers know that I’m going to need time off work, I’m sure they won’t mind.” I hoped. But as it happens, there was nothing to worry about as I was due some leave anyway.

I texted back to Skorokoro Safari’s Inc, a Pretoria based couple with only one customer – me! They have led me on two trips into Kruger to date, both were experiences to behold and more importantly, they are great company to be with out in the bush.

The Birdmobile…..
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So I’m off on a journey soon that will re-ignite my recently found passion for the wildlife of Kruger. I’m hoping to see some new characters, but also to re-acquaint myself with the familiar regulars which I have come to know so well during my all too brief previous visits.

I want to marvel again at the hunting technique of a Black-shouldered Kite…..
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To hear the call of an African Fish-eagle……

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And see a Secretarybird as it stalks the long grass.....

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To experience the colours of a tiny Blue Waxbill….

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And gasp at the light shining on a Green-winged Pytilia.
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To look into the eye of a Zebra so close…..
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But most of all, I just want to be here……..
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Ayoba!

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Sun Jul 04, 2010 3:28 pm 
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Thanks for the good wishes everyone. I'm getting really hyped up for this trip :lol:

Will be putting Red and Yellow ribbons on the bakkie, so hope to meet some 'mites on the roads and put some faces to names.

Hope you don't mind waiting a few weeks for this TR to continue?

Must dash, packing to do........

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:07 pm 
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Hello everyone,

Just got back home a few minutes ago. Took over 100Gb of pics, so it will take me a while to sort them out :shock:

Fantastic 9 days in Kruger, North to South. Did not see a single red or yellow ribbon the whole trip :huh: !

Best bits were brief views of a Caracal and close views of a Leopard stalking Impala. Huge herd of Buffalo (2 or 3,000) and Black-chested Snake-eagle catching a snake.

There were other highlights as well, but more of those later......

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Mon Jul 19, 2010 6:33 pm 
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Leopard #1.

As this was the highlight of this trip for us, I decided to post it first! I was going to save it for later, but the excitement of it all was just too much!

We drove from Bateleur camp towards Shingwedzi as we were short on fuel and needed to top up. On the way there, a Caracal crossed the road in front of us, stopped briefly to look in our direction, and then headed off into the long grass. We searched in vain to see it again, but the little cat was nowhere to be seen. Not twenty minutes later, we were about 1.5 Km from the turn off to the camp, just before the bridge, when we saw something ahead in the road. A male Leopard stood there, gazing intently into the bush. As we coasted towards him, he melted away into the bush at the side of the road. I managed a quick snap through the windscreen as we were still moving and got a blurred rear end and tail disappearing into the bush. Fearing that we would never see him again, just like the Caracal sighting, we approached slowly and saw that he was stalking some Impala that were further into the bush, partly hidden by the trees and shrubs between the crouched Leopard. He stalked ever so slowly towards his intended quarry and took the utmost care to place each paw, sometimes taking minutes before placing it down on the ground. His head only looked away from his track to check the ground briefly before each step. Finally, he made his move and sprang at the Impala. We could not see the final charge as it was now deep in cover, but we heard the rush of the Leopard, the alarm calls of the Impala and then chaos as we searched every movement through the thick bush to find out the outcome. Impala were rushing everywhere, leaping high to escape being caught. Eventually, the antelope all stopped and turned as one to look in the same direction. By following their stares, we picked the Leopard up as he walked slowly away. He had missed the kill! We analysed the stalk later, but could not decide what had given his position away. He was only a couple of metres away from the nearest Impala when he rushed at them, so we could only guess that he either moved too soon, or the Impala saw him and fled a split second before he charged, giving them the advantage.

What a sighting. I never dreamt that I would witness a Leopard hunting and the shivers still run up and down my spine as I recall those moments that we watched in awe at his every movement. Simply breathtaking.

I must make a note of thanks here to the people in the white car ahead of us. They were approaching from the other direction when the Leopard was in the road, standing stock still. They drove towards us slowly when they realised that we were watching something special and saw that I was taking photos. They could have rushed forward to see what we were watching, but had the courtesy to hold back. We urged them forward, but they could not see what was happening from their vantage point, which was a great shame as their good manners meant that we saw it all. We found out later that the Mum in the car had seen something in the road ahead, thought that it had crossed behind our car, not in front as actually happened, and had an inkling that it may have been a cat. I think they managed a poor view of the Leopard as it walked off into the bush, but I’m not too sure. I really hope they saw something special for themselves sometime during their stay.

Click on the thumbnail to view a slideshow of the stalk. Use the pause button etc. to view each pic separately. Please let me know if the slideshow does not work for you all.

Image

Coming up next…….

Another Leopard or two……

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 6:06 pm 
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Hi Billy f, Elsa, Katja, Pumbaa and Micetta,

Thanks for the welcome back and glad you enjoyed the Leopard pics, some more coming up in a while I'm afraid :hmz:

It was a shame that the Caracal did not stay in sight long enough to take it's photo, but hey! I'm not complaining as it was just great to get just a fleeting glimpse.

Next installement up in a while....

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Tue Jul 20, 2010 6:18 pm 
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Another Leopard or two.

Leaving Bateleur camp the following morning after seeing the Leopard stalking, we headed South for Talamati, our next camp. On the H1-6 somewhere to the South of Mopani, we saw three vehicles on the side of the road and approached slowly to see what was being viewed. Looking at the nearest large tree, we saw a male Leopard sitting on a branch, but it was apparent that he was not too comfortable with his position as he got up and moved around quite a bit before finally settling down in a more comfortable spot that was more to his liking. He was a handsome looking fellow and his coat glistened in the sunlight. The dappling light through the leaves complemented his uniquely spotted pelage making him quite difficult to see sometimes. He had a huge head and massively powerful shoulders, which are apparent in the photos.

Whilst we were watching him, a car pulled up with a woman driver all alone. She started to chat and seemed unimpressed that there was a Leopard nearby, but after a while we realised that she had seen many, many Leopards in her time. She told us that she used to live in Kenya and now resided in Phalaborwa and made regular day trips into the park. I was a bit concerned at first as the conversation was slightly on the loud side, but the Leopard was unperturbed and gave us a cursory stare before gazing intently at the vast open spaces beyond. After the Tannie had left, we repositioned briefly for a couple more photos before continuing our long drive South. It’s amazing what you always see when you are pressed for time. Had we been staying in Mopani, we could have spent the rest of the day with this wonderful feline.

Settling in at Talamati, we made a braii and sat on the stoep listening to the night sounds. Owls called, a Bushbuck barked, with Crickets and Tree Frogs chirruping in the darkness. A loud rasping, sawing cough soon had our attention as another male Leopard patrolled the riverbed outside of camp. We listened intently for a few minutes, hoping to hear it again. When the sound finally arrived, I nearly jumped out of my seat as it appeared to come from just the other side of the fence, mere metres away. I asked if it was prudent to move inside, but the alarm calls of the local Baboon troop told us that the cat was on the move and heading away from us. We listened again, but all we heard were the nervous calls of the Baboons and Bushbuck. Another special end to a magical day in Kruger.

Click on the pic below to view a slideshow of the male Leopard.

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:18 pm 
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First and Last Light.

We drove to Kruger overnight so that we could be at the gate in Phalaborwa at 0600. As we approached the entrance, the sun broke through, lighting the clouds up like fingers of flaming light against the gunmetal clouds in the background. A wonderful first impression of our visit to the park.

Having spent the day driving from the gate to Shingwedzi, we unpacked the Skorokoro and headed for the bridge over the river to watch the sunset. The sun’s rays gleamed down beneath the clouds in shafts of golden light and the faint wisps of high cloud were lit in a pinkish glow. On the opposite side of the bridge, the clouds were lit by the sinking sun and glowed orange in the slowly fading light. Satisfied by our first Kruger sunset in over a year, we headed back to camp to settle down for the night and listen to the purring of the Scops Owls and whistling cries of a Pearl spotted Owlet…but that’s another story!

Click on the photo to view a slide show of the sunrise and sunset that day….

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Thu Jul 22, 2010 9:08 pm 
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Fish Eagles.

We saw many Fish Eagles on this trip, a lot of them young birds, foraging for food away from their normal watery habitat. One third year bird was soaring above the dirt road close to Babalala picnic spot, in association with a pair of Hooded Vultures, whilst another bird at Sirheni was also associating with Hooded Vultures, which were nesting nearby. If it wasn’t for the difference in plumage of these two birds, I would have thought it to be the same Eagle on both occasions, but they indeed were different birds.

Driving back from Punda Maria one afternoon, a first year bird was seen on the tar road with a Bateleur Eagle. They were squabbling over a Yellow-billed Hornbill carcase which had been run over by a speeding car. That afternoon, we saw literally dozens of Hornbills, all spaced out along the road at about 100m intervals. We guessed that they were all catching small insects in the roads, but could not discover exactly what they were catching. The Fish Eagle eventually won its argument with the Bateleur and retreated to a nearby tree to finish off it’s meal. Reading up later on this behavious, it appears that these birds often revert to scavenging when the need arises.

At Rooibosrant Dam, the resident adult was patrolling its territory, flying from tree to tree, yelping occasionally. We noticed that the nest they had occupied two years ago was in desperate need of repair and was not in use this season. A pair of Egyptian Gese had taken up residence on the old nest, which the Eagle did not agree with one bit. As it patrolled overhead, it made a sudden turn and dived at the Geese, which fled post haste, honking loudly in protest and alarm! I’m certain that the Eagle was not actually hunting the Geese, but merely trying to ascertain his territorial claim to the tree and the old nest.

Click on the photo to view a slide show of the Fish Eagles and a view over Rooibosrant Dam lit by the early morning sun.

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Sat Jul 24, 2010 4:15 pm 
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Atmospheres.

One of the nice things I love about Kruger is the chance to take in the atmosphere of the place. You soon come to realise that it’s not all just about the animals and birds you see, it’s about the setting in itself. From the early morning mist that rises off the rivers and dams to the sunlight glowing on a blade of grass. The reflections of clouds on the mirror like surface of the water, or the shapes and shadows on the bark of a tree. Sometimes you just get completely lost in thought as you stare up at the crescent sliver of the moon and other times the atmosphere can even be man made such as in the flickering flames of a braai fire.

It’s when I see these things that I always seem to have a sense well being. A sense of wonder, or one of utter contentment. It does not matter where you are in Kruger, there is always something interesting to marvel at, even on those “quiet” days when the wildlife is hiding away. It’s what makes me feel so much at home in the park and one of the reasons I’ll keep on returning.

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Mon Jul 26, 2010 10:04 pm 
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Movement.

One of the things I wanted to capture during this visit to Kruger was an antelope in full flight. I had Impala or Kudu in mind, but never bargained for what I would actually see!

Impala, I thought, would be relatively easy as they are very common and seen regularly. You come across a group on a daily basis that is a bit more skittish than the usual herds, probably because they have been stalked by a predator recently or they sense one is in the area. I saw several of these graceful antelopes bounding away in the distance, but they were either too far away or thick bush hampered my attempts. Eventually I managed to catch a ram as it half leaped into the road, but it was not what I was after.

Kudu were a different matter altogether. They tended to just trot across the road in front of you and it would require the luck of a lottery winner to get that shot in thick bush. I eventually got one in a bit of a jog, but again, it was not what I was after.

We returned to camp one evening at Bateleur. I wandered into the hide where a couple were watching an ewe Bushbuck and fawn. The sun had just set and the light was fading fast, so I pushed the ISO on the camera to 5,000 to try and get some shots of the fawn as it came down to the water. It suddenly shot off along the sand and bounded into the bush at high speed. At first, I thought there was a predator in the area, but it soon became evident that this little one was just full of youthful energy and needed to expend that energy in the only way it could. I squeezed off several frames as I tried to keep up with it in the darkening gloom. It twisted and turned, bounced and soared and generally ran amok for several minutes before it realised that it had lost it’s bearings and went looking for mum! One of those magical moments in the wild that you just do not see very often.

At Pretoriuskop, my friends took the little one to the pool for a paddle whilst I tried to photograph the local Baboon troop. They were having none of it and ran off every time I approached close enough for a photo. Eventually, the light went as the sun dipped lower, so I was about to give up when one of the troop raced by. I snapped off a couple of pics, knowing that my shutter speed was far too slow to stop the movement, but I hoped to at least catch some motion blur. I was pleasantly surprised with the results and will now claim them as deliberately “arty” shots!

Another bit of movement we noted was the nervous trot of a Goat and kid along the main road 4 Km in from Phabeni Gate at the turn off to the S3. As mentioned in Bushbaby30’s TR, we phoned a Scientist friend at Skukuza to report the intruders and a Vet was informed to go out to look for them. I hope they both made it safely out of the park and did not end up as a snack for one of the locals!

Movement can also be seen in the first and last shots of the early morning clouds taken just South of Babalala picnic spot. The clouds were quite thick to begin with, but it was evident that they were thinning out and by mid morning, they had all but cleared to leave a bright, blue sky. Another perfect day in Kruger.

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Wed Jul 28, 2010 8:51 pm 
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Tatanka.

“Tatanka” said my friend, J, followed by “Buff……Buffaloow” with two index fingers up at his temples acting as horns. We were twisting the scene from the film Dances with Wolves to suit the scene we were watching. Substituting The American Buffalo, or Bison as it is sometimes referred to, for the Cape Buffalo we were watching. This became the in-joke for the trip and was used every time we came across these huge animals.

I was fascinated by the contrast in the horns of the big bulls, or Daggaboys, we encountered. The central area, or boss, was rough and dimpled, whereas the outer curve of the horns had been worn smooth by countless sparring and fighting with others of their kind, or by the frustrated thrashings against a tree or shrub. We saw this display for ourselves when two bulls came together in a dispute over dominance. They sized each-other up before charging, but the contest was short lived as the subordinate bull conceded quickly before finding a suitably peaceful bush to vent his anger on!

I read recently that the term Daggaboy refers to the caked on mud that often adorn these animals. This mud resembling the mud on the people who used to build huts, or Daggas as they were called, hence the term.

Just South of Babalala, we found a large herd moving in a South-westerly direction, presumably heading for the nearest water source. We estimated that the herd was some 2 or 3,000 strong and the dust cloud that this moving mass raised could be seen for miles. Various flocks of Starlings and several Hornbills were following the herd to feed on insects disturbed in the grasses underfoot, while both red and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers foraged on their backs in search of a meal.

The herd was a mixed one of both bulls and cows, with a number of the cows having calves of various ages to foot. The dominant bulls seemed to be at the vanguard of the herd, which is probably a better position for the choicest food when on the move. Sub-ordinate bulls seemed to be on the flanks, which appeared to be for protection for the calves against attacks from predators. One old bull at the rear of the herd was so tired; he hitched a piggy-back from one of the cows :big_eyes: . One thing is for sure, I realised that there was so much going on as they plodded along, that I would need to read up a lot more about their social hierarchy to try to understand what was going on in the herd as a whole and in the little groups that seemed to make up the total sum.

Click on the pic to view a slideshow of images...

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Thu Jul 29, 2010 9:58 pm 
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Ndou.

Ndou is the Tshivenda name for the Elephant. It was also the name of one of the camp staff’s son at Sirheni. I did not realise this at the time and only found out when I looked up the name after returning home. It seemed an appropriate name for the little boy, who was always helping his father in camp and always greeted us with a broad, friendly but cheeky smile and he reminded me of the little Elephants we had seen in the park which always seemed to be wearing a smile and were full of playfulness. Maybe that’s why the little lad was named in the first place?

Our first encounter with Elephant in the park on this trip was also at Sirheni. He was a friendly bill who regularly patrols the fence along the river here and is very approachable, being unconcerned with all the attention he was receiving from the visitors in camp. The only time he took any notice of us is when I took a flash photograph of an insect without thinking that he was just the other side of the fence. He just popped his head through the bush and gave me a bit of a stare before continuing to munch on the sweet vegetation along the shore.

Our next encounter was the flip side of the coin. We were returning South from Punda Maria when we saw a youngish bull walking towards the road. We coasted up and pulled over to the side of the road about 50 or 60 metres from where he would cross in front of us. As he came around a frond of palms, he took one look at us, shook his head and trunk in disapproval, and bluff charged towards us a few metres before continuing on his way across the road. I thought that as we were in a grey vehicle, he may have mistook us for another Elephant, but on reading up later, discovered that younger bulls are often very nervous and behave like this even towards such smaller animals as Warthog and Impala!

The largest bull we saw was walking along the road towards us with a heavy limp. He was obviously in a lot of pain and it was distressing to watch such a magnificent animal suffering in this way. He turned off the road before he was close enough to photograph from the front, but I managed to get a bum shot as he made his way into the bush. His right ear has a distinctive hole in it, so he may be a known tusker?

Three other bulls were nearby, feeding on shrubs and grasses, or taking a rest by leaning against a tree!

Two other bulls were watched as they took a mud bath on the main road North of Mopani. One of these two was obviously enjoying his spruce up and even looked as if he was exercising at one stage!

A breeding herd crossed the road in front of us one day, the mothers ushering the youngsters across in matronly fashion. One of the youngsters made a dash for freedom, but was quickly turned back by the intervention of two curling, guiding trunks before they all vanished into the bush.

Another largish bull was in the dry riverbed below the bridge at Shingwedzi. I’m not too sure what was on his mind, but it appeared that he had more than the usual four legs!

Our last sighting of Elephant on this trip was at Shimanangweni Dam, north of Talamati, of a lone animal who was standing still at the waters edge, lit by the low evening sun.

Click on the pic to view a slideshow of images…..

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Mon Aug 02, 2010 10:15 pm 
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Fast Walkers.

Giraffes still amaze me by their graceful movements and the variety of patterns they come in. It took us a few days to see our first one, but after an initial drought of sightings, we saw many different animals up and down the length of the park. One bull we saw was very dark in colouration, a sign of age I read in my field guide.

Three youngsters we saw on the roadside appeared to be with a single adult female. We speculated if they were triplets, having not heard of this before, but after a while, two other mothers came out from behind the trees to nurse their individual young. It was amazing that we had not noticed or heard them earlier; they were so well camouflaged and quiet.

We spent some time watching one feeding on leaves and compared some of its facial movements to the gurning (face pulling) competitions held every year in the North of England! I normally take a dislike to anthropomorphosis, but in this instance, it was difficult not to.

Another group were in the vegetation along the Shingwedzi River as we crossed the low bridge. They seemed more nervous than usual, with three of them moving quickly into the bush. We knew there were Lions in the vicinity, but as these were all adults, I wondered at why they were so skittish? Do lions prey on healthy adults? Or were there young ones already in the bush that we had not seen? It seems that every visit I make to Kruger produces more questions than answers. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it draws me back there.

Click on the pic to view a slideshow of images....

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Tue Aug 03, 2010 9:37 pm 
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Hi FC, Elsa, Shi, Katja, Anne-Marie & Rusky,

Thanks one again for the comments and to Elsa for your reply re the Lions. I spent my supposed sleeping hours reading up more about Lions hunting last night. Seems each pride seems to specialise in some form of prey or other, but interesting to note that in a study, Kruger's male Lions hunt more than open savanna Lions, scavenge less and specialise on Buffalo. Kruger's Lionesses hunt mostly Zebra and Wildebeest. I'm guessing that the ones who go for the Giraffe on the roads have learnt that trick from within their pride? Also got sidetracked on the evolution of the great cats and the hunting technique of the so called Sabretooths, but I'll leave it there for now!

Rusky, that Taita Falcon was a bird I'd wanted to see since I was a kid. There were four species I wanted to see before I hang up my bins for good. Taita Falcon, Emperor Penguin, Cahow and Steller's Sea-eagle. Only the Steller's to go now and I'll be a happy man :lol:

Next installment coming up in a minute, hope you like Owls?......

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 Post subject: Re: Skorokoro Safari's Go Bushveld Birding.
Unread postPosted: Tue Aug 03, 2010 9:50 pm 
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Gwdihŵ.

Gwdihŵ is one of the Welsh name given to Owls and is mostly used by, or when talking to, children (pronounced goody who). Tylluan is the other common name for an Owl widely used. I always search for Owls when in Kruger, but sometimes have to make do with just listening to the soft calls of African Scops Owls in the camps or the whistling of Pearl-spotted Owlets as we drive the dirt roads in the early mornings.

At Shingwedzi, we heard a Scops Owl purring away and went in search of it. It was perched in a tree above us and continued to call the whole time we watched it. I tried to take some photographs (I don’t use flash with my DSLR camera) and had to put the ISO up to 25,600 equivalent, so the noise is very evident on the photo, but I was pleased with the resulting image. I did much better with the resident Scops Owl at Afsaal picnic site further South later in the trip, as the bird was perched in dense foliage during the day.

Pearl-spotted Owlets were harder to find this trip. We heard them every night and morning, but they seemed to be hiding away, or just deeper into the bush than normal. We eventually caught up with one as we headed South towards Talamati. It was perched out in the open, and glared at us with those captivating yellow eyes as we stared back in awe.

Spotted Eagle-owls were heard most evenings, but we never did catch up with one in Kruger this trip, despite knowing where one regularly perched in a favourite tree. (We did, however, see two outside the park, along with a Barn Owl). In contrast, we did not hear Verreaux’s Eagle-owls at night, but managed to see two and hear one during the day. The first one flew low over my head as I walked the path along the fence at Sirheni. At first, I thought it was a Pel’s Fishing Owl as it was along the water’s edge, but soon realised that my luck was not that good! Enquiring with the rangers later, we were told that Verreaux’s were regular here and that Pel’s were not in the area. Another time maybe?

Heading South on the Mphongolo Loop, we were told that there was a Verreaux’s sitting out on a branch overhanging the road. We carried on for 5 klicks in search of the bird, and eventually found him dozing on a bough above us. His mate called to him from deep in cover in the same tree and we guessed that she was either sitting on eggs or brooding chicks. A great experience to see this amazing bird so close.

Click on the pic to view slideshow....

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A Birder's Eye View of Kruger


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